A brief essay on a modern masterpiece of soul music. If you have not heard OUR NEW ORLEANS, do not delay.

GreilMarcus.net

Our New Orleans, a recent collection of performances by refugees and expatriates from the city, recorded after the flood that destroyed it, is the latest in a series of New Orleans tribute-charity-telethon extravaganzas—all of which seemed to feature dull performances by Irma Thomas, “Soul Queen of New Orleans.”

In the early 1960s Thomas caught a vein of pain and defiance that was altogether her own. “Wish Someone Would Care,” from 1964, was both more and less than soul music was supposed to be: less because it was so fragile, more because it demanded more of the music than the music could give. The singer was demanding that the song—or something, someone—stop her from killing herself. After that, the spark was gone.

When the producers of Our New Orleans gathered musicians from the city’s diaspora—in Memphis, in Houston, in New York City, in Maurice, Louisiana, a village halfway across…

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